The Licking Valley High School football team's defensive objective early in Friday's pivotal MSL-Ohio Division showdown against visiting Granville might be to rattle quarterback David Fraley.
That's easier said than done, however.
"He certainly isn't playing like a sophomore," Panthers' coach Randy Baughman said. "You always want to put pressure on the opposing quarterback if you can, but we'll need to mix things up in our schemes and coverages. We have to keep him guessing."
Fraley (5-foot-11, 165 pounds) is making his first appearance against Licking Valley, which has rallied from an 0-2 start to improve to 3-2 overall and 2-0 in the MSL-Ohio. The Blue Aces, who have won four consecutive games to improve to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the league, are the only other undefeated team in the league.
Fraley, who engineered last Friday's 35-22 win that was Granville's first at Bexley since the MSL-Ohio was created in 2003, has rushed for nearly 500 yards after seizing the starting job four weeks ago. That includes a 176-yard effort during a 28-13 win over Columbus Academy in a matchup of last year's league co-champions on Sept. 16. Hence, bringing too many pass rushers carries plenty of risk.
"He continues to improve every week," Granville coach J.R. Wait said. "He's a dual threat, but he's giving us a dimension we haven't had before. We've been blessed with some good running quarterbacks over the years, but he's showing he can take it home in a hurry."
Fraley threw for 240 of his 260 yards during the first half last week and threw three touchdown passes. Receiver Josh McKenzie has 18 receptions overall for 330 yards and eight touchdowns.
Slowing Licking Valley's running game will be a priority for Granville's defense as well. Senior Tregg Hall (5-10, 165) rushed for 141 yards and three touchdowns against Whitehall, pushing his season total to 704 yards on 118 attempts for a 6.0 yards per carry average. He's scored seven touchdowns over the past three weeks, including an 80-yard punt return during a 48-21 victory on Sept. 10 at Ready.
Licking Valley, which is averaging 27.6 points, also has posted a significant MSL-Ohio win already by taking down preseason favorite Heath 24-21 on Sept. 17.
"They're very aggressive defensively," Baughman said of the Blue Aces, who are yielding 16.5 points during their four-game winning streak. "They really fill the gaps with a lot of bodies. We'll limit what we do and try to do a few things well."
The winner not only gains a leg up in the MSL-Ohio standings but also will reap a windfall of computer points. The Blue Aces are seventh and the Panthers eighth in the first official Division III, Region 11 rankings released last week.
The Blue Aces have yet to win in four games at Licking Valley dating to 2003, which includes a 42-21 playoff loss in '07. They won 35-12 behind a dominant defense at home a year ago to end Licking Valley's 34-game league winning streak, however. Granville also won 33-31 at home in 2003 as the Panthers' 44-game regular-season winning streak concluded.
"We've played some memorable games," Wait said. "This could certainly be another one, but we know that's an awfully tough place to play."